Talent Articles

Why our business is thriving under lockdown, and no, we’re not an e-commerce store.

  • South Africa

Author:  Sid Peimer

Why is a 216-year-old voluntary member-based organisation like the Cape Chamber of Commerce thriving during lockdown? It shouldn’t – when times get tough, members will look at their expenses and cut those that are ‘voluntary’.

People tend to pay their utilities, because if you don’t pay, you don’t get to play. And heaven forbid we shouldn’t have Netflix. You must have electricity to watch TV (renewable energy debates aside), so that account tends to get settled. Unfortunately, we also don’t ‘see’ the costs of reducing and cancelling insurance and investments, but I guess, if you need food, you need food.

Back to the topic of why the Chamber is thriving amidst this pandemic. I was told that it was because I have foresight. I deny this vehemently. If anyone can prove extrasensory powers, they could have collected the million-dollar prize from the Amazing Randi, but that fund was terminated in 2016.

Although nobody saw it coming, don’t despair, there’s another 25 prizes currently available around the world varying from $5 000 to $250 000 for proof of extrasensory powers. So until clairvoyance is proven, we can safely assume I don’t have those powers. That brings us back to the big question: why is the Chamber thriving? The answer is relatively simple. We’re thriving because of a strategy I call ‘shotgun innovation’. It works like this: if there’s an inherent advantage to the introduction of any innovation – be it tangible technology or intangible culture – and it places no extraordinary strain on your budget, then you have no choice but to implement it. Although accountants may balk at my method to determine ‘extraordinary strain’, this is what I use: if I say to myself “Hmmm, we could afford that”, then it’s a go.

So here is why I believe we’re thriving in the first few months of lockdown. But let me be expressly clear, every brand out there has a bullet with its name on it – no one is totally protected from the vagaries of the market. And the Chamber, being a B2B organization, depends on there being a private sector to support and vice versa.

So, firstly an example of a tangible innovation. We used to allow staff to purchase desktops. I’m not sure if there is any advantage to a desktop other than the fact that you won’t leave it behind in the restaurant ‘after a few’. We stopped that practice and staff were migrated onto a laptop when their ‘old faithful’ had its chips (get it – chips?). There was no overriding reason to do it, other than the fact that laptops looked cuter and allowed you to work remotely. As things turned out, having the staff move from stationary desktop to portable laptop paid dividends – it allowed us to set up for remote operations within 24 hours of lockdown. That’s shotgun innovation for you.

Next an intangible example. I wanted to drive an innovative mindset. I had this vague notion that innovation (not knowledge) was the new competitive currency. Don’t ask me why, I just did. So I came up with this quote that I shared widely within the organization: “If no one dies, the risk is acceptable”. It sent an unambiguous message that tomorrow better not look like today. So when we migrated to remote working, we could focus on not only maintaining the client value proposition, but expanding on it.

It helps that we’ve kept costs level for five years translating into a selling price that equates to a packet of crisps per day to get you all the benefits of the Chamber. And if I put it like that, cancelling your membership is not the wisest thing to do – your business needs all the help it can get – and for that price, you get 30 full-time champions and 100 volunteers hosting you at 200 events per annum. And that’s just one of the 25 benefits. But I’m turning into a salesperson now, which is not my intention. On second thoughts, I do want to sell you something: the practice of shotgun innovation. Think of it as an investment. If a monkey with a dartboard can outperform humans in the equity market, then the more darts you have on the board on the day of reckoning, the greater the chance of a higher score. As Woody Allen says: “90% of success is just showing up”. Unless you have clairvoyant powers.


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